Somewhere in Pennsylvania There is a Dragon’s Nest and a Person I May Never Be

Melinda Shen'24

There's a gift on your doorstep. Sure, it's from me, or your neighbor, or your friend that lives two blocks down. There's a gift on your doorstep and for some reason you can't help yourself. Because it's winter. Because it's what I think I'm supposed to do.

Of course, how would I know? The only gifts I've ever gotten were names and expectations, stuffed in red envelopes and left on the counter for me to find the next morning. By then the snow would have been long gone.

But right now, the snow is still here, and so are you. Go ahead, open it! Don't you wanna know what's inside?

There's a gift on your doorstep and it's a dragon all nestled up and perfect in evergreen needles.

Oh. You didn't want that? I'm sorry. I can take it back, if you'd like. Or maybe that's what I should've said. Instead, the words catch on my tongue like snowflakes and melt before I figure out the right thing to say.

And just like that, the dragon wakes up, tail whipping and lashing and knocking the box out of your hands.

You drop the present, cup your hands out, but it's too late. You'll be picking evergreen needles out of your pockets like lint

I know where you'll find them, In your hair. In your socks. Under your nails and getting stuck in your zipper.

But it's alright, isn't it?

Maybe you should've told me you hated the smell of pine, maybe I should've given you gingerbread instead. Or cinnamon, or whatever Christmas is supposed to smell like because I would never know.

I wish sometimes I could be like you. Here, sew your holiday cheer in-between the threads of my sweater with an evergreen needle. You always have one on you, right?

I'm sorry. (For the presents, for the red envelopes, for never giving gifts at all.) And sure, maybe I won't say it out loud but it's for the dragon. You understand.

Some days, when my lights have tangled themselves slanted on my bedpost, I wish to be everyone else.

"In your dreams," my dragon says.

"I'm my dreams" I say, "I am nobody at all"

For my dragon

Likes cabbage and oranges and likes to dance on fireworks

That melt the frost until you could almost forget it was ever there

For my dragon drags its claws along the walls in red peppers and upside down letterings on the front of your door

For my dragon

Has no wings

And wraps himself up and over and around my neck

Over and over and over

I'm sorry, I’ll say. it's the dragon that's breathing fog out of my mouth. It's the dragon that's nestled himself in my throat, between the spaces of my vocal cords

And still you take my dragon and cut his whiskers, peal his red paper and couplets off the walls.

Or maybe I am the one setting peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on his plate like rice and tomato egg drop soup were never good enough.

Maybe I am the one who clips his whiskers

So he stumbles blind, the one who gives him red and green construction paper wings and gingerbread perfume.

I'm sorry, I'll say, out loud, like fog in the winter air. Like an empty red envelope on the pocket of my coat

My dragon drapes himself in the space between my shoulders and nestles himself in the crook of my ear.

"I didn't hate the evergreen needles" he says

he says "joy to the world" and "let it snow"

he says "nothing is ever permanent, like fireworks in street-side air"

he says "my whiskers will grow in again"

"Shut up," I say. He doesn't, and I don't mind.

It's winter. It's dark like it will be dark for hours. The stars will fall from the sky and turn into snow. I will catch them on the tip of my nose and it will be everything I've ever wanted.